This past September, I checked one more trip off my California bucket list. The Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, Mexico. I have never been to Mexico but wanted to travel there before I move back East. I also know that partying in Cancun or Ensenada isn’t really my cup of tea. Emily and Jeremy had traveled to the Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley) with Jeremy’s family before and thought I might enjoy it more. The Guadalupe Valley is quieter with a larger focus on wine and good food. Right up my alley. 🙂
My friend, Alix (who I know from Boston but now goes to PT school up in LA), decided to join me. Baja California is the westernmost strip of Mexico, and the Valle de Guadalupe is only about 1.5 hours south of the border. We decided to only go for a night, although it would be better to stay 2 nights next time as the drive down took about 6 hours(!) with traffic. We got a bit of a late start on that Friday since we didn’t realize that we needed to get Mexican pesos before crossing the border. We were glad that we had some cash on hand for souvenirs, tolls, and cash-only bars.
Getting into Mexico is shockingly easy; I had my passport all ready but the officer at the border just waved us on without checking them. They were pulling random cars over to the side but we were lucky. As we drove into Tijuana, we saw the loooong line of cars waiting to enter the United States. And we were not excited about having to sit in that line the next day.
Once into Mexico, the drive was easy. GPS told us the fastest route would be to take the toll road east and then merge onto Route 3 in Tecate. From there, we drove south for a little over an hour until we hit Valle de Guadalupe.
Probably the most unexpected part about driving in Mexico was how readily people pass each other on the road. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if another car drives up behind you, you should move to the breakdown lane so they can pass you. It only took me a short time to get used to this. It was a one-lane road and would have taken a whole lot longer if I didn’t pass other cars (when it was safe to do so, of course). Also, we saw some interesting loads on trucks…
Most of Valle de Guadalupe is on a long stretch of Route 3, with smaller roads leading off the highway to hotels, restaurants, wineries, etc. The AirBnb that we were staying in was down an unnamed dirt road (just at a mile marker). The directions told us to drive 200 meters down the dirt road, and since I have no idea what 200 meters looks like, we got lost. We ended up driving back on the main highway and turning back around, which added more time on to the trip. I should add that we didn’t have phone or GPS access at this time since we didn’t have international plans. When we finally drove up to the gate of the farm, we realized that we had actually passed by the house on our first trip down the road. Oh well…
We were staying in a private room on a large farm. The private room ended up being a completely different building about 50 yards from the main house. It was just what we needed for the one night.
We had reservations at a restaurant back up the highway but made a quick stop at a winery situated on a hill off the main road. The layout of the Guadalupe Valley reminds me a lot of Temecula, California, for those that have been there, but somewhat less developed.
Viñas de la Erre is a winery with a large outdoor space for wine tasting and small plates. We had some time before our dinner reservation, so we each tried a wine flight. I wish I knew more about each particular wine but the bartender only spoke Spanish, and my Spanish is minimal. It seemed that most of the small group of people that were gathered were Spanish-speaking as well. Although the Guadalupe Valley is becoming more of a tourist attraction to Americans, it is clear that it is not as widely known yet. I appreciated the authenticity of that, and it gave me the chance to practice my Spanish.
We had reservations that night at La Esperanza BajaMed, although when we finally found it (again getting lost) we discovered reservations were probably unnecessary due to the 5 other cars in the parking lot. The restaurant itself has a rustic, modern vibe and overlooks the vineyards of a nearby winery. This was the first time I realized my Spanish was not going to cut it as the entire menu was in Spanish. My food vocabulary was severely lacking; most of the Spanish I use is at work. Our waiter, laughing uncomfortably, clearly didn’t speak ANY English. So he took to using animal sounds to describe what kind of tacos the menu listed. It was probably the most fun I’ve had with a waiter. Eventually, an English-speaking waiter came over and assisted.
Alix and I split a bottle of Chardonnay, and ate some tacos and a pasta dish (I was starving after not eating for about 7 hours). We were sitting next to a table with a group of men, ranging from 20s to 50s (?), all wearing matching blue jackets. They were speaking Spanish but we heard some English mixed in. Alix and I asked them for their help translating something at one point and ended up chatting with them for the next hour or so. Turns out they were all coming for a motorcycle race taking place in Ensenada that weekend. They were a fun group of guys, one of them telling me that he had just won the Mexican version of The Amazing Race and was somewhat famous in Mexico. Yeah, right (I thought). But I looked him up and turns out it’s true.
The restaurant was closing and they asked if we wanted to join them at another bar down the road. I had already decided I wouldn’t be drinking any more; someone has to be the designated driver. But Alix said she would have another drink. I unfortunately don’t remember the name of the next bar but it also was pretty empty once we arrived minus the bartenders. We sat at a table out on the grass. It was a beautiful, but chilly, night and we were able to see hundreds of stars in the sky. A nice reprieve from all the city lights in Orange County. We didn’t leave the bar until about 1 AM, which is extremely late for this old lady.
We had reservations the next morning at a spa but wanted to find a place for breakfast. Our AirBnb hosts were very helpful in giving us directions and recommendations.We thanked them and said goodbye but not before spending some time petting their dogs.
They had three dogs on the property, one of which they said wasn’t really suited for farm living. Eduardo, the homeowner, asked if we knew of someone who wanted to adopt her in the US. I would have in a heartbeat if I didn’t already have Scout but Alix fell in love with the pup pretty quickly. She unfortunately couldn’t take her at the moment, due to her current living situation, but we took their email address so Alix could stay in touch. Fingers crossed she will still need a home.
We ended up driving by Encuentro Guadalupe looking for a different restaurant but were so glad we stopped there instead. The Encuentro is a hotel with an interesting room set-up (check their website), but there is also a restaurant, bar, and shop in the main lobby area. We ate breakfast with the most amazing view!
The food was wonderful as well. Alix had huevos rancheros and I had hotcakes, with the most delicious green juice. We weren’t able to translate what was in the juice but it was very refreshing. At the restaurant we were able to get onto Wifi and I could text my mom, who was anxiously waiting to hear I was alive (haha).
We had reservations later that morning at the Viniphera Spa, which is on the property of the Quinta Monasterio, a small winery. The winery itself was closed that day due to a baptism celebration. But we were mostly there for the spa treatment anyways. The Viniphera is an extremely small spa, built out of old shipping crates and beautifully redesigned. The spa itself can only accommodate two people at a time. The package we chose included a 75-minute aromatherapy massage, sauna (with lavendar tea), and lunch and wine at the end.
It was the most relaxing massage I think I have ever had; Alix and I both had a difficult time getting up afterwards. I was in a haze for a while. We ate our lunches, a delicious and filling salad, out on the front patio. They gave us ample time and we never felt rushed to finish. The most amazing part: all of this cost only about $75. 🙂
After the spa, we made a few stops to buy souvenirs: a beautiful, old mirror for $14; a large, antique vase for Emily and Jeremy; and some homemade honey and olives (the Valle de Guadalupe is also known for its honey).
We had enough time for another quick wine tasting at Hacienda Guadalupe. This bartender spoke almost no English and I had fun attempting to have a casual conversation with him in Spanish. He described the first couple wines in Spanish but then gave up on the last few, since he knew we couldn’t understand a word. I bought a bottle of Chardonnay to take home before we headed back on the road.
Tip(!): When leaving this part of Mexico, if possible, you should drive through the border at Tecate instead of Tijuana as it is usually less busy. Although it took us a little while to find the entrance, we were only waiting in line about 15-20 minutes. Don’t listen to the GPS directions as the road leading to the border is blocked off (and guarded by heavily armed military) and you have to drive around to get to the entrance. Follow the road signs.
This Mexico trip was definitely a better fit for me. I’m not much of a partier and so the relaxed, quiet atmosphere and wine tasting was preferable. I’ve recommended making this trip to many people since. It was an enjoyable and restorative 24 hours in Mexico and I look forward to hopefully returning for a longer visit next time around.